“Notice: We’ve been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant,” reads a sign outside McDonald’s in Guangzhou. It advised that all black patrons “notify the local police” and seek “medical isolation”.
McDonald’s has since removed the sign, closed the store and issued a statement saying the notice was not representative of the chain’s “inclusive values” – but black people living in Guangzhou have told The Independent it is just one example of the racist abuse they have faced during the coronavirus crisis.
Max*, who is from Sierra Leone and has lived in the southwest port city for the last five years, says Chinese authorities forced him from his home and put him in quarantine – despite having tested negative for Covid-19. “I waited outside for 14 hours in the rain, and eventually, I had to go to look for other temporary places to stay,” he says.
They told him he needed to go to the station to get an extension on his visa, but when he arrived, they refused to give him a stamp and said he wasn’t allowed to go back to the apartment.
“The police asked me to pay for the hotel... but I had no money on me,” Max says.
When Max tried to go back to his apartment later, he says he and two other friends were pushed to the ground by police and taken to a quarantine centre.
He told authorities that he had been tested for coronavirus two days ago and the results came out as negative – but the police said the quarantine was “standard procedure” for Africans in the city.
He was kept there for a few days and had to undergo several coronavirus tests.
According to Max, dozens of his friends from African countries have all been forced into quarantine, yet none of them have left China since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
“To be honest, I feel really uncomfortable in China and I want to go home,” Max says.
“Some of my friends were kicked out of their apartments and they have nowhere to stay. They were just students and they have test results to prove that they are healthy. But instead, the Chinese just decided to treat us like animals.”
Like other local residents, Luke* says he has been stringently following protocols rolled out by the Chinese government since the coronavirus outbreak. Originally from Togo, he has been studying Chinese for more than three years.
He says doctors and police showed up at his apartment unannounced and asked him to test for Covid-19 last week.
“They told me my result was negative, and I thought I was safe. But two days later, they showed up at my apartment again, and this time, they told me and my roommates to undergo a two-week quarantine,” he says.
He says some of his friends have been evicted and landlords have told them they no longer wanted to rent our their houses to Africans.
“I feel rejected by the Chinese people, I am only here to study Chinese,” Luke tells The Independent.
“When we see how people from Africa are being treated in Guangzhou, I don’t have hope of staying here. I also don’t feel like continuing my study here. It hurts me a lot.”
There has been growing concern in China over the threat of imported coronavirus cases, which have been on the rise as the number of domestic cases levelled off. Africans living in China say this has led to more racial profiling and abuse against black people.
On 28 March, the government imposed a ban on all foreigners entering the country, including those with visas and residence permits.
Fears were raised over the weekend amid a spike in imported cases. On Sunday, China’s national health commission reported 108 new infections – the highest number in more than five weeks – all but 10 of which were from abroad.
Peter*, who has been living in Guangzhou for more than a decade, runs weekend football training with other foreigners living in the city, including a couple of members of Guangzhou’s African community.
However, several weeks ago, he started receiving messages from the managers of the local football pitch, informing him that foreigners should not enter until after the Chinese players finished their practice.
Then on 7 April, the manager told him that black people could no longer play at the pitch.
“This is purely Chinese people’s fear about a second wave of coronavirus infection after the government repeatedly highlighted the danger of foreigners bringing the virus into China,” he adds.
Two of Peter’s friends from Africa have also been put in enforced quarantine, he says, despite having not left China for more than a year and having been tested negative for coronavirus.
Ambassadors from several African countries in China have written to China’s foreign minister, demanding Beijing addresses their concerns about their citizens in the country.
Nigeria on Tuesday said the treatment of its citizens in China was “extremely distressing” and “unacceptable”.
In a meeting with Chinese ambassador Zhou Pingjian in his office in Abuja on Tuesday, Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama said: “There were videos circulating on social media of very disturbing scenes and incidents involving Nigerians in the city of Guangzhou.
“We saw images of Nigerians in the streets with their possessions and this was, of course, extremely distressing for us at home.”
China’s Foreign Ministry has promised to roll out a non-differentiated health service for Africans.
“All foreigners are treated equally. We reject differential treatment, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination,” it said in a statement.
On Sunday, China’s state-run tabloid Global Times published a story to refute criticism of the country’s treatment of African nationals.
Global Times said local authorities in Guangzhou claimed that equal policies were in place for both locals and foreigners, and earlier reports about African nationals being mistreated are “viral reports used by some western media to provoke the problems between China and African countries”.
However, to Luke, Max and Peter, Guangzhou authorities’ xenophobic treatment of African nationals over the last week is merely a sign of Chinese people’s underlying feeling towards the local African community.
“There has always been a general suspicion and fear towards Africans in Guangzhou,” Luke says.
“The coronavirus outbreak only unleashed the underlying feelings that Chinese people have about Africans. We have never been welcomed here.”
* Names have been changed to protect identities
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies